Formatting Guide (Illustrated)


macrumors member
Original poster
Aug 6, 2007
I thought I'd write a guide for people who don't know how to format their NTFS Flash Drives to HFS+ or FAT32 in Disk Utility. I think it would be a good idea to sticky this to cut down the amount of threads about this and so that the replies could simply link to this guide. Reply and tell me what you think of the guide as this is my first one.

So, you've just plugged in the USB drive that you've been using with your PC for ages, right?

You drag a file into the drive, and, oh no!

This means your drive is formatted with NTFS, a file system that works only with Microsoft Windows. You will need to reformat it to work with a Mac only, or with Mac & Windows. This guide will show you how.

WARNING: Formatting your drive will erase everything on it. Back up all of the files on the drive before erasing it.

First, find Disk Utility. If you have Mac OS X Tiger, you can do a Spotlight search by clicking the blue magnifying glass symbol in the top right hand corner of the screen. If you don't have Tiger, you can find Disk Utility in /Applications/Utilities. Earlier versions of Disk Utility differ, but the method should be basically the same.

Open Disk Utility and you will see a screen that looks something like this.

Now, find your USB drive in the left hand menu, and click on it.

Now, click on the 'Erase' tab.

Opening the 'Volume Format' drop-down menu, you can see that we have quite a few options.

Choosing 'Mac OS Extended (Journaled)' (also known as HFS+) will make your drive compatible only with a Mac, and a Windows computer will not even be able to see what is on it.

Choosing 'MS-DOS File System' (also known as FAT32) will make your drive completely compatible with both a Mac and Windows computer, but you cannot make a file any larger than 4GB.

Whichever option you choose, you are now ready to format your drive. Click the 'Erase' button and you will see a warning like this.

Click 'Erase' on the warning to continue. You will now see a small progress bar appear near the bottom of Disk Utility.

When it is full, your drive is formatted, and is now compatible with your Mac.

Congratulations, you've just formatted your USB drive using Apple's Disk Utility software!

Thanks, Smurfy! That's really awesome. I'd just like to add a little detail to this here.

If you know you are only going to use a flash drive on Macs, or on Windows-based computers with adaptive software which allows for reading from and writing to Mac OS Extended volumes, or on Linux-based computers which have HFS and HFS+ support enabled, then formatting the flash drive as Mac OS Extended may be a good option.

However, if you know you will, or if you may use the flash drive on non-Mac OS X-based systems lacking support for HFS/HFS+, then this is not an option at all. You'll want to stick with the typically FAT32-formatted option, since this is the single most supported file system, period.

It is best NOT to use NTFS on these devices at all, and the reason is that presently only NT-class Windows OSs (that is, Win2K, WinXP, WinVista) have full and stable support for writing to NTFS file systems.

For my part, I have a SanDisk Cruiser Mini 1GB (which I've had for about three years or so), and even though I presently have nothing but Macs in my home, I do from time to time have to interact with computers running other operating systems, and so I continue to use FAT32 on that drive.

One thing that can be a real hassle is the normally hidden metafiles that Mac OS X generates, which are quite visible everywhere else. They are a nuisance both within Windows and Linux (where you're tripping over the darn things), and on portable media players, where you have to go and manually delete each of these files.

Does anyone here know a way to get around that while the flash drive or other flash media is still mounted on the Mac?


macrumors 6502
Apr 3, 2007
Thanks a ton dude!!! this is what i was lookin for! but i hav one doubt though.. cant we format a drive into fat32 thru os x ?? i.e. suppose for exaple i've got atwo partitions 1 has osx and the other xp.. so cant i divide the osx part into two .. with the third being the data part in fat32 .. WITHOUT ERASING MY OSX ??
What you're asking for is something called Dynamic Partition Resizing. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any partitioning utilities for the Mac which support this. I've no idea why. However, even if you could do it, it's a bit tricky because you need to make 100% sure that the physical space in question on your HDD has NO actual data on it, otherwise you'd lose that data.


macrumors 6502
Apr 3, 2007
Hey can i do this... while settin the capacity for xp in bootcamp assign 40gb...
and during setup(the blue screen) can i delete the partition and create two new ones 20 gig each??? both fat32??? can this be done?